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Mogambo is a 1953 film directed by John Ford, featuring Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly and Donald Sinden. The film was adapted by John Lee Mahin from the play by Wilson Collison.

Grace Kelly won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress (1954), and the film was nominated for two Oscars, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Ava Gardner), and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Grace Kelly). The film was also nominated for a BAFTA Film Award (Best Film from any Source USA).

Mogambo is a lavish remake of the classic film Red Dust (1932). The earlier movie also featured Clark Gable in the lead role.


Eloise Y. 'Honey Bear' Kelly (Gardner) arrives at a remote African outpost, looking for a rich maharajah acquaintance, only to find he has decided to cancel his trip. While waiting for the next river boat out, she toys with hardworking big game hunter Victor Marswell (Gable), who (initially) has no respect for her type. When the river boat returns it brings with it Donald Nordley (Donald Sinden) and his wife Linda (Grace Kelly) ready to go on safari. Miss Kelly departs. Later that day Mr. Nordley is taken ill with a reaction to his Tse tse fly inoculations. From this it transpires the Nordleys wish to make the longer and more arduous trip to record gorillas. Marswell declines to take them. Later that night Miss Kelly returns in a row boat after the river steamer has run aground farther down river. There is some friction between Miss Kelly and Mrs. Nordley while her husband recovers after Miss Kelly witnesses Mrs. Nordley and Marswell together.

After Donald Nordley has recovered, Marswell agrees to go up into the gorilla country, taking Miss Kelly halfway to join the District Commissioner and travel back by that route. However, when they get there, they find the commissioner badly wounded by only recently belligerent natives. With a column of reinforcements days away, the small party is able to escape by the slimmest of margins, taking the mortally wounded commissioner with them. Miss Kelly is thus forced to continue with the Nordleys and Marswell.

Meanwhile, a serious romance is developing between Marswell and Mrs. Nordley, and everyone in the party is aware except Mr. Nordley. The situation is so bad that it is leading to clashes between Mr. Nordley and other members of the group. Miss Kelly tries to warn Mrs. Nordley of Marswell's character but is rebuffed. Marswell himself, while setting up to photograph and capture gorillas with Nordley, even tries to tell Nordley, but a charging "bull" gorilla cuts him off and he has to shoot the beast.

Having killed the leader of the gorilla troop, Marswell is depressed and that night in camp begins a drinking bout in his tent. It is then that Miss Kelly shows up and throws herself across his lap and asks for a drink too. She and Marswell are drowning their sorrows and lauding each other as friends, and their drinking leads to some light-hearted kissing and caressing, at which point Mrs. Nordley appears. Marswell's dismissive remarks on her infatuation with him as "the White Hunter" enrages her, and she takes Marswell's pistol and shoots him as he tries to flee the tent, wounding him in the right arm. When the rest of the camp shows up, Miss Kelly explains that Marswell has been making advances at Mrs. Nordley for some time, and now having done so in a drunken state, has forced her to shoot him as a last resort. Everyone laughs and goes off, with Mr. Nordley saying that Marswell is lucky his wife did the shooting, since he would have done the deed himself, and more effectively. This episode resolves the tension between Miss Kelly and Mrs. Nordley, ends the relationship between Mrs. Nordley and Marswell, and finally ends the estrangement of Mrs. Nordley from her husband. Also, this dramatic scene clears the air without ever allowing the cuckolded husband, Donald Nordley, to know what was really going on.

The next day, the party decamps, leaving Marswell behind to try to capture some young gorillas to pay for the safari. Marswell is able to bring himself to make a proposal of marriage to Miss Kelly but she now rebuffs him. As the canoes are pulling away down the river, she watches him stand on the bank and she jumps in the river and part swims and part wades back to him. The two embrace and the movie ends.

The entire movie turns on this love quadrangle—Kelly-Marswell-Mrs. Nordley-Mr. Nordley—and the contrapostion of the obviousness of the developing affair between Mrs. Nordley and Marswell, and the innocence of Mr. Nordley (even to the point of defending Marswell when another member of Marswell's party tries to inform him).

Production notes

Grace Kelly was not the first choice for the role of Linda Nordley. Gene Tierney dropped out due to her emotional problems. The movie was filmed on location in Okalataka, French Congo; Mount Kenyamarker, Thikamarker, Kenyamarker- you can see Mt Longonotmarker and Lake Naivashamarker, both in the Kenyan Rift Valley, and Fourteen Falls near Thikamarker as backdrops- Kagera River, Tanganyika; Isoila, Uganda; and at the MGM British Studios, Borehamwoodmarker, Hertfordshiremarker, Englandmarker, UKmarker. The film offers some of the best wildlife shots taken of the African continent, at the time. However there were never gorillas in Kenya so the locations are an odd mix from a naturalist perspective. The music is all performed by local native tribes (except for Gardner accompanied by player piano), unusual for Hollywoodmarker, and the film records a traditional Africa that has long since passed. For these sequences alone the film is worth watching.

Subsequently, the Francoist Spanishmarker censors wanted to hide the issue of adultery, and changed the dubbing to make the Nordleys brother and sister. As a result, it appeared to be an even more scandalous case of incest.


In popular culture

The theme for Mogambo was loosely adapted by Mark Barber for the Auckland University Tramping Club Revue in 1954. A party travelling down the Anawhata on the first Saturday of the May vacation discovered that the cry 'Mogambo' could be produced with great volume and had very satisfactory resonant qualities. It became a club call, of greeting or when making contact on a tramp, for many years.

Murray "Murray the K" Kauffman, popular 1950s and 1960s New York City DJ, used the chant "Ah, Bey, ah bey, koowi zowa zowa" lifted from Mogambo as one of his trademark on-air phrases.

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